Protecting Australia’s airspace through efficiency and digitalisation

Posted: 23 December 2019 | | No comments yet

With an expected increase in passenger numbers, Airservices Australia’s Chief Financial Officer, Paul Logan, discusses how the company is developing and how they will ensure that the industry keeps pace with future growth.

Protecting Australia’s airspace through efficiency and digitalisation

Perhaps more than any other Australian institution, Airservices Australia is connected to all points of the aviation ecosystem – airports, airlines, safety regulators, governments and the broader community.

From this vantage point, as the country’s ANSP, we can see the unprecedented and widespread change that is coming – and we are preparing from multiple business points of view for this exponential growth and transformation.

Last financial year, we facilitated 163 million passenger movements, and future growth forecasts are telling us that passenger movements at Australian capital cities will double over the next 20 years. It is therefore an understatement to say that significant investments are required to support this forecast growth.

We are one of the key players in enabling airports to unlock the benefits of their large infrastructure investment. Of course, this also applies to our customers – the airlines – as we improve systems to manage network disruptions with a high degree of predictability to better improve the passenger experience. Indeed, the flying experience at all levels is being transformed, from the performance of the biggest and most advanced commercial aircraft, through to low-cost, high-tech devices for the world’s most remote aerodromes.

Our current efforts

At Airservices, we must manage the day-to-day maintenance of this safe and stable present, whilst delivering the full potential of a smart, high-tech and very different future. It is an exciting time to be at the forefront of shaping the next era in aviation, with the rise of new entrants such as drones and the need to manage their impact on the aviation ecosystem, but this also brings the challenge of increasing airspace complexity.

We must also grapple with short-term economic volatility whilst we lay the foundations to equip the industry for the significant global traffic growth ahead, to reduce congestion and increase a seamless experience across the network. We must do this amid increasing expectations to manage the impact of aviation on communities and the environment.

We also recognise the increasing role that data, automation, digitisation and intelligent systems will play in supporting operational efficiency and creating new opportunities for overall performance, productivity and safety. That’s why our work programme over the next five years is very much focused on delivering outcomes for our customers and industry, whilst minimising the community and environmental impact of our operations.

Operational efficiency is key

Airservices takes seriously our mandate to foster and promote the aviation industry while ensuring the safety of the travelling public and delivering efficient and innovative services for customers.

Of course, we are always attuned to the challenge, especially in regional locations, of running services as economically as possible. In the post-mining boom environment of 2015, we realised that if we were going to optimise our current services whilst developing new and innovative offerings to meet longer-term industry requirements, we needed to improve efficiency in the non-operational areas of Airservices.

The resulting efficiency programme delivered savings of more than $170 million and created space for us to reduce customer charges by two per cent for the first time. For the customer, this amounts to around $20 million a year in real terms. For us, this renewed focus on our operational efficiency means we can improve service delivery and invest in new technology to help the industry grow, without compromising on operational safety.

It’s important also not to forget the crucial role our aviation rescue firefighters have in ensuring the safety of our airports. Optimising service delivery here is also our highest priority. In a first for an Australian fire service, a new ‘emergency stairs’ access vehicle has been introduced at Melbourne Airport, allowing our firefighters to quickly access the upper levels of an A380.

After operational efficiency comes digital transformation

As we move more into a digital world, we need to be able to facilitate the exchange of increasing volumes of data across the national aviation network so we can enable the seamless operations between airlines, airports and other participants in the aviation value chain.

There are three facets to this: Firstly, we are creating a digital services platform to enable us to better manage aeronautical information services. Secondly, we’re developing a ‘digital twin’ of our operation to support the delivery of optimised network management through improved collaborative decision making. Thirdly, we will be using this ‘twin’ to optimise the workload of air traffic controllers, as well as the complexity of traffic and air route design.

Network efficiency

With new runways to open in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and a new airport for Sydney, the challenge for Airservices is to connect the new infrastructure that supports airport efficiency to the wider network.

With new runways to open in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and a new airport for Sydney, the challenge for Airservices is to connect the new infrastructure that supports airport efficiency to the wider network.

We understand the impacts of potential disruptions as congestion grows. So, we are collaborating with the industry to continuously improve our network management and minimise the impact of air traffic disruptions on the travelling public.

Our OneSKY programme is the cornerstone of this development. It will deliver world-class air traffic management services through a united civil and military air traffic management system. OneSKY accounts for 60 per cent of our $1.2 billion capital investment programme over the next five years, and includes significant investment in critical air traffic infrastructure, facilities and services. In the past year, we have achieved several major milestones in the OneSKY programme, including the switch over to the Civil Military Air Traffic Management (ATM) voice communication system in our Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney ATM service facilities.

The benefits of OneSKY will flow through to all users of Australian airspace, from the major airlines and their passengers, right through to the smallest ultralight aircraft. Some initial benefits are now being realised with the introduction of a much more flexible voice communication system which has been implemented in the current operating environment. In the coming year, our focus is on ensuring our new air traffic service centres are ready for the OneSKY installation, concluding the system design reviews and preparing to go live over the next few years.

Our initiatives in ATM network management are also continuing as we complete the foundational work for the Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) system and commence the development of our Long Range Air Traffic Flow Management (LR-ATFM) platform. A-CDM will provide the industry, including airports, with real-time operational data, which will help to better manage delays and operating costs. Meanwhile, LR-ATFM is on track to deliver a range of operational, economic and environmental benefits, including reduced aircraft fuel burning and enhanced traffic predictability.

Digital aerodrome services

We are also looking at how digital aerodromes can optimise the way we deliver services and benefits that still meet our strict safety standards.

Digital aerodromes have a range of possible applications which our upcoming trials will explore, such as a back-up service for continuity (to be trialled in Sydney), a need for future replacement of a current tower (to be trialled in Canberra), or an introduction of a service at an aerodrome which does not have a tower but may need one in the future.

The rise of drones

The world of unmanned aerial vehicles is moving fast, with two significant developments unfolding in Australia in 2019.

In a world first, Google Wing launched a drone delivery business in Canberra and then, more recently, the Queensland suburb of Logan. Meanwhile, Uber Air announced Melbourne would be one of the locations to trial its aerial taxi service from 2020. With the rapid rise of new entrants such as drones and aerial taxis, Airservices is also undertaking work to explore the capability and functionality of unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems as the landscape of low altitude airspace rapidly changes.

We are currently working closely and collaboratively with the government and industry to pilot operational concepts for airspace boundary integration, building the capability to detect and track aircraft and integrate UAV traffic into the existing air traffic system. While the challenges that lie ahead are complex and fast evolving, the constant factor that remains for us is the safe, smart and efficient management of our airspace.

Airservices looks forward to contributing positively, expanding our range of services in Australian airspace and working collaboratively with existing and future airspace users to ensure a safe and progressive transition to Australia’s aviation future.

Paul Logan was appointed as Airservices Australia’s Chief Financial Officer in May 2016, to provide strategic financial and commercial management of Airservices operations. With more than 26 years of experience in the air traffic management and civil aviation safety industry, Logan has led a number of key change programmes to establish an external customer-centric focus through the establishment of service performance reporting frameworks and engagement programmes.

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